A call to action

Ben Jian ben.jian at arrayedfiberoptics.com
Wed Aug 1 01:07:51 PDT 2012

Dear SNF lab members,

I have been an industrial user of the lab for about ten years.At the 
beginning I was a regular user.Now with the dwindling financial 
resources at my disposal, I use the lab once in a while.As head of a 
small startup company, every dollar has to count.I feel compelled to 
write this letter to the entire community.I am writing to you because we 
face a major crisis.

Am I the only one who is outraged by the recent 30.2% rate increase in 
the middle of a recession?To top it off,this was followed shortly by the 
announcement of two new staff hires.A true budget-balancing measure 
would include a serious round of layoffs and other cost-cutting 
measures.Instead, we are witnessing the reverse - robust hiring.At 
SNF,it is easy to hire people, but nearly impossible to let go.This 
staff addition paves the way for the next round of major rate 
increase.Thus the vicious cycle continues.Unless we SNF users take 
action and stop this, the vicious cycle of rate increases will never end.

  10.1% annual SNF rate increase over eight years

In December 2004, the fully capped rate was $3312 (without overhead) for 
industrial users.In December 2012,it will become $6000.In eight years, 
user fee has seen an 81.1% increase!That is a rate of 10.1% per year 
growth over eight years.With overhead, the monthly capped rate will be a 
staggering $9420 in December.That is mind bogging incompetence!The user 
fee has been treated as an ATM machine.The SNF is in serious jeopardy of 
becoming irrelevant with the latest round of irresponsible rate increase.

The people in charge of nominating SNF management have given us one bad 
administration after another.The Nishi/Rissman administration was the 
one who gave us the 40.6% rate increase in 2005.Just to show how 
arrogant and how much they took users for granted, the big fee increase 
was actually made retroactive by one month!Not to mention that in 2004, 
there was no hour limit in lab usage.Since then, it has been 160 hours.

I don't know the current operations director of SNF at all. However, 
based on the recent actions of announcing a 30% fee increase followed 
immediately by the hiring of not one but two new staff members, it shows 
the sheer insensitivity and cluelessness of the management style.

The SNF administrations have been characterized by cronyism and gross 
mismanagement.This is a serious waste of taxpayer's dollar.

  Ideas for reform

The SNF should be run like a business, because it serves a sizeable 
community of small businesses with limited research budgets.We are given 
significant supporting funds from the NSF.I want to see significant cost 
saving compared to similar university labs.The SNF must be run like a 
lean and mean organization.

The SNF director preferably should come from inside SNF and should have 
regular job responsibilities in addition to managing people.There are 
some SNF staff members who can do an excellent job of running the lab, 
yet they have been passed up time and again in favor of expensive people 
managers from outside research labs, first HP Labs, now SRI Labs.They 
gave us 40% in 2005 and 30% rate increase in 2012, respectively.

The sizeable number of PhD-level staff members can be a poor use of 
precious resources; SNF is not a place where there is a continuing 
demand for such high level skills.If there is a need for high level 
skill, hiring should be on a temporary or part-time basis.With the 
talent that the Bay area is known for, it would be really easy to get 
top talent at a fraction of the cost of a full time staff.

The SNF could learn a few lessons from the Microfab at Berkeley.Instead 
of staff members, they use students and audio/visual media to train new 
users.This is a lab where things get done, all while keeping user fees 
in check.

  Demand change

Before SNF goes down the tubes, maybe there is something we can do.Maybe 
we can rise up and demand change.Dear lab members:We need to take 
action.We deserve better.

Take back SNF before the latest round of increase ruins SNF for 
good.Rebel against this incompetent SNF administration.Take this 
opportunity to bring real change to SNF that's long overdue.Overhaul SNF 
management completely.

I suggest:

1.We demand the out of touch SNF operations director's immediate 

2.We the industrial users must have power in the SNF decision making, 
instead of "taxation without representation". I for one could do a much 
better job of managing SNF's finance if given the chance.We need to form 
a new decision making committee for SNF consisting of three equal voting 
blocks of SNF staff, faculty and industrial members.All financial 
decisions must be approved by this committee and SNF management must be 
accountable to this committee.

3.We need to "Starve the beast".Abolish the 30.2% rate increase.There 
should be no rate increase for three years, then 3% each year as 
previously agreed.SNF must learn to live within its means.Examine every 
corner for cost saving. Control cost through internal attrition if not 
layoff.SNF needs to become every ounce efficient, each person wearing 
multiple hats.

I am wary of the repercussions of this letter.Last time in 2004 after 
objecting to the big rate increase as a whistle blower, I was singled 
out by Nishi/Rissman for retribution.Rissman made a lot of rules just 
for me with the threat of permanently banning me from SNF.This time I 
want to make clear that if SNF tries to do the same,I will let the 
entire SNF community know.

If there is no significant improvement, I for one will lobby NSF to move 
its funding elsewhere such as Berkeley.The double digit rate increase 
over eight years speaks for itself about the gross incompetence of the 
SNF management.I will make a strong case to NSF that SNF through its 
total mismanagement has stifled the growth of small businesses, which 
are the job growth engine of this economy. I will make sure Berkeley 
gets a copy of my letter to bolster their case of why Berkeley should 
get the NSF funding instead.

Yours truly,

Ben Jian, PhD


Arrayed Fiberoptics Corporation

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